Two days after the 2016 election, Paul Ryan gave a surprising interview on Fox News in which he declared the Republican agenda would include cuts to retirement programs. “If you’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, you have to address those issues as well. …Medicare has got some serious issues because of Obamacare.” This has not happened. But Ryan has not given up the dream. “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan told radio talk-show host Ross Kaminsky. “Frankly, it’s the health-care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health-care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
Trump, of course, promised during the campaign not to touch Medicare. “Many of these candidates want to cut it,” he said, but insisted he would bring so much growth cuts would not be necessary.
However, Ryan is trying to work on that. Ryan told Kaminsky he is lobbying Trump to support his plan. “Do you get the sense that you’re making a little bit of an impact on him when you talk to him about the importance of Medicare reform?” asked Kaminsky. “I do,” replied Ryan. “I think the president is understanding that choice and competition works everywhere in health care, especially in Medicare.”
Would Trump actually follow this advice? The unsuccessful Republican attempt to cut Obamacare, and the apparently successful Republican plan to cut taxes, stand as the two least-popular major bills on record. But cutting Medicare would be in a totally different league than even those widely despised efforts. A Pew Survey earlier this year found that 94 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans oppose cutting Medicare. Ryan might be having success getting Trump to warm to his position, but Trump famously tends to warm to the position of whoever speaks with him last.
On the other hand, Trump has steadily abandoned every populist stance he took during the primary and brought his policies into conformity with standard Republican fare. It’s conceivable that Republicans consider their position in the midterms so far gone they might as well go out with a bang.
More likely, Ryan’s dream of cutting Medicare will have to wait.